The Rosie Project Page 72

Rosie took a drink of her wine, then spoke in a very measured way. \Don, I don\ know where to start. I don\ even know who\s asking me - the old Don or Billy Crystal.\

\There\s no old and new,\ I said. \It\s just behaviour. Social conventions. Glasses and haircut.\

\I like you, Don,\ said Rosie. \Okay? Forget what I said about outing my father. You\ e probably right. I really really like you. I have fun with you. The best times. But, you know I couldn\ eat lobster every Tuesday. Right?\

\I\ve abandoned the Standardised Meal System. I\ve deleted thirty-eight per cent of my weekly schedule, excluding sleep. I\ve thrown out my old t-shirts. I\ve eliminated all of the things you didn\ like. Further changes are possible.\

\You changed yourself for me?\

\Only my behaviour.\

Rosie was silent for a while, obviously processing the new information.

\I need a minute to think,\ she said. I automatically started the timer on my watch. Suddenly Rosie started laughing. I looked at her, understandably puzzled at this outburst in the middle of a critical life decision.

\The watch,\ she said. \I say ’’I need a minute’’ and you start timing. Don is not dead.\

I waited. I looked at my watch. When there were fifteen seconds left, I assessed that it was likely that she was about to say no. I had nothing to lose. I pulled the small box from my pocket and opened it to reveal the ring I had purchased. I wished I had not learned to read expressions, because I could read Rosie\s now and I knew the answer.

\Don,\ said Rosie. \This isn\ what you want me to say. But remember on the plane, when you said you were wired differently?\

I nodded. I knew what the problem was. The fundamental, insurmountable problem of who I was. I had pushed it to the back of my mind since it had surfaced in the fight with Phil. Rosie didn\ need to explain. But she did.

\That\s inside you. You can\ fake - sorry, start again. You can behave perfectly, but if the feeling\s not there inside ... God, I feel so unreasonable.\

\The answer is no?\ I said, some small part of my brain hoping that for once my fallibility in reading social cues would work in my favour.

\Don, you don\ feel love, do you?\ said Rosie. \You can\ really love me.\

\Gene diagnosed love.\ I knew now that he had been wrong. I had watched thirteen romantic movies and felt nothing. That was not strictly true. I had felt suspense, curiosity and amusement. But I had not for one moment felt engaged in the love between the protagonists. I had cried no tears for Meg Ryan or Meryl Streep or Deborah Kerr or Vivien Leigh or Julia Roberts.

I could not lie about so important a matter. \According to your definition, no.\

Rosie looked extremely unhappy. The evening had turned into a disaster.

\I thought my behaviour would make you happy, and instead it\s made you sad.\

\I\m upset because you can\ love me. Okay?\

This was worse! She wanted me to love her. And I was incapable.

\Don,\ she said, \I don\ think we should see each other any more.\

I got up from the table and walked back to the entrance foyer, out of sight of Rosie and the other diners. Nick was there, talking to the maitre d\. He saw me and came over.

\Can I help you with anything?\

\Unfortunately, there has been a disaster.\

Nick looked worried, and I elaborated. \A personal disaster. There is no risk to other patrons. Would you prepare the bill, please?\

\We haven\ served you anything,\ said Nick. He looked at me closely for a few moments. \There\s no charge, sir. The Chablis is on us.\ He offered me his hand and I shook it. \I think you gave it your best shot.\

I looked up to see Gene and Claudia arriving. They were holding hands. I had not seen them do this for several years.

\Don\ tell me we\ e too late,\ said Gene, jovially.

I nodded, then looked back into the restaurant. Rosie was walking quickly towards us.

\Don, what are you doing?\ she said.

\Leaving. You said we shouldn\ see each other again.\

\F*k,\ she said, then looked at Gene and Claudia. \What are you doing here?\

\We are summoned to a ’’Thank you and celebration’’,\ said Gene. \Happy birthday, Don.\

He gave me a gift-wrapped package, and put his arm around me in a hug. I recognised that this was probably the final step in the male-male advice protocol, indicating acceptance of the advice without damage to our friendship, and managed not to flinch, but could not process the input any further. My brain was already overloaded.

\It\s your birthday?\ said Rosie.

\Correct.\

\I had to get Helena to look up your birth date,\ said Gene, \ut ’’celebration’’ was a clue.\

I normally do not treat birthdays differently from other days, but it had struck me as an appropriate occasion to commence a new direction.

Claudia introduced herself to Rosie, adding, \I\m sorry, it seems we\ve come at a bad time.\

Rosie turned to Gene. \A ’’thank you’’? Thank you? Shit. It wasn\ enough to set us up - you had to coach him. You had to turn him into you.\


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